Sunday, September 01, 2002

"Toto, we are not in Kansas"

In general, the people, even the Communist officials, were not openly hostile. But they definitely had their way of letting us know (wearing T-shirts emblazoned with political slogans) we were not in Kansas, USA – we WERE in Cuba.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2-3

Both the April and November distributions faced trials and tests of patience, as the wheelchairs were held in port by the customs officials days after the scheduled release. We were frustrated. Couldn’t the powers that be see and understand? It was their people suffering. Bussed 12 to 14 hours into Havana they sat waiting - patiently, hopefully, helplessly, for the wheelchair they could never afford. The therapists invented new ways to accomplish what they had come to do. They made medical notes and took pictures of those waiting so that when the chairs did arrive, they were able to make fittings based on the information gathered. In a country where medical and social services are free, yet imprisoned by economic embargoes and political upheavals, equipment (like a wheelchair) is given to those with the greatest chance of becoming productive members of the society. To the great sadness of parents, if a child’s disability or mental capacity is diagnosed severe enough, little is done in the way of therapy or treatment. In our land of opportunity, hope is around every corner; in Cuba it is 90 miles away.

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:24-25

Waiting is never easy and Americans are probably the worst “wait-ers” in the world. Why do you think we invented microwaves? But in the waiting, God’s great work goes on. Without the wheelchairs, evangelism took center stage. The greatest gift - the Bible - was the only gift some would receive because of the bureaucracy. Even in our frustration, we saw God’s hand at work as the customs official and the truck drivers asked “what is this work you are doing?” and took the Bibles offered to them at the end of the day. One customs official even stood in as translator for a team member while she was explaining the Good News we had come to share. The Director and I laughed thinking, just perhaps, the two day hold-up of chairs was really the Lord orchestrating this man’s work schedule to be available for “such a time as this”.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

I had many questions about Cuba before I arrived. Most of them remain unanswered. I returned and read more of Cuban history and the complicated relationship with its big neighbor to the north. I didn’t understand before and even now, after two trips and hours of study, I understand less. There are no simple solutions for such complex problems. I remember Abraham, who questioned God about problems in the midst of His promises. The Lord offered him a visual example to strengthen his faltering faith:

He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars- if indeed you can count them." Genesis 15:5

Our God is faithful yesterday, today and tomorrow. He offers each of us examples to strengthen our faith in times of doubt. Let me share with you a few of the uncountable “stars” in Cuba He faithfully showed me. They shine bright and deep in the heart of this Texan:

  • God’s Gift: Before I left for Cuba in April I read articles on what issues faced the Cuban church. I spoke with the Pastor after arriving and asked him personally of the persecution. He immediately said, “There is no persecution in Cuba!” I felt as though I had crossed an invisible line in faith etiquette, or perhaps someone was listening. Startled by his reaction and response I continued, “But what about Christians losing their jobs because of their faith? What about the arrests?” He replied, “This? This is not persecution; this is God’s gift to the Cuban church. Before the revolution my parents were well off and we had few hardships. When the revolution came, I was arrested and sent to the labor camp. I was next to murderers and thieves. I had no idea of what their life was like until I worked alongside them in the sugar cane fields. Who, more than a murderer or thief needs to know the love of our Lord? How would they hear it, if God had not given me this gift?”
  • Under Cover Cubism: On my first trip I left one of the interpreters an “EvangeCube” (an unfolding cube containing the entire Gospel message). She told me with great enthusiasm on my return in November – that the cube had gone “undercover”. Her husband (a doctor) carries it in his pocket at the hospital. As he examines his patients, they often inquire about the “lump” in his pocket. He brings it out and shares the whole message of hope in Christ to all who ask.
  • Unbelievable Provision: On the first day of our arrival (before the chairs were released) the coordinator was asked if a chair could be fitted for a triple amputee war hero, who lost both legs and his arm in the battlefield (Bay of Pigs). Knowing this takes a very special type chair (a “hemi-chair” that can be used with only one arm) she sadly replied, “Probably not, those wheelchairs are rare and very seldom donated.” The team members (participants of numerous distributions worldwide, and one who actually heads the collection for a multi-state area) all concurred they’d never seen this type of chair donated. There was great joy when the shipment of wheelchairs was finally released from customs – but there were tears of unbelievable amazement as the “hemi-chair” was unpacked from the crate!
  • Interpreting Angels: Our team had the privilege of visiting with some of the recipients of wheelchairs in the prior distribution. At one point during the meeting we needed a translator to give therapy instructions to the parents of a young boy with cerebral palsy. Just as the frustration with charades and hand signals was heightening, a man walked up and joined in the conversation, easily interpreting from English to Spanish and back from Spanish to English. After the thank-yous, the therapist asked his name. “Jose Angel” he smiled in reply. “So you’re an Angel?” she asked. “Well something like that” and with a final handshake and grin he was gone.
  • Feliz Navidad: The Director and I traveled 4 days before the team to attend a conference for Christians with disabilities. One of the presenters was a former Catholic Nun who now creates nativities as part of her ministry. The new generation of Cuba, she explained, has no background of the Christmas story, and having a nativity displayed is a way to bring the message. The whole Gospel story is there. As we prepared to leave for Havana this kind woman made a special presentation to the “two ladies with such love in their hearts to work for the disabled.” She handed us both boxes filled with 50 hand-painted statuettes. I was overcome by the honor she had shown us, and overwhelmed by the priceless gift she shared - out of her poverty.

You helped make the vision possible. Your financial support and prayers light the way in times of questions and places of darkness. I hope these few “stars” remain shining brightly in your memory and cause remembrance of all that only God is big enough to answer and accomplish!